It is with much joy and pride that I join you to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of our nation’s independence at this stadium, named, appropriately, after one of the outstanding figures of the 4th Republic and a native of this city, the late Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, who left us so prematurely, and whose dignified widow, Hajia Ramatu Mahama, is with us here. We continue to honour his memory.
I extend hearty congratulations to all Ghanaians from the vibrant and dynamic city of Tamale, capital of the Northern Region. This is the day we justifiably celebrate the collective energies and sacrifices of our forebears that led to that joyous night, when our historic first leader, Kwame Nkrumah, uttered the immemorial words “Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever”. We will defend that freedom with the last drop of our blood, as we remain dedicated to its preservation.
I extend also, on behalf of all Ghanaians, a warm welcome to our guest of honour, a good friend of mine and of our nation, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the brotherly Republic of Niger, fellow Member State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and his delegation. Many of his compatriots, whom we call Zamramas, have been living amongst us in peace and solidarity for over a hundred years, contributing positively to the growth of our economy. His presence on this day, in our midst, will be a source of considerable pride to them. We are delighted that he has accepted our invitation to share this special day with us. Akwaaba, Your Excellency, is our word of welcome. We say, also, nakayooo, as the Zamramas say, and Jabbama in Fulani.
I am glad to see that all the high officials of State – the Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament, the representative of the Chief Justice, the Chairperson of the Council of State, the Chief Staff at the Office of the President, Ministers and Deputy Ministers of State, the Majority and Minority Leaders of Parliament, Members of Parliament, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces, the Inspector General of Police, and Service Commanders, are all present here for this ceremony. And it is heartening to note that the former Presidents of the Republic, their Excellencies, Jerry John Rawlings, 1st President of the 4th Republic, and John Dramani Mahama, the 4th President of the 4th Republic and 2020 presidential candidate of the opposition National Democratic Congress, and the former 2nd Lady, Her Excellency Hajia Ramatu Mahama, are, also, present in this Stadium. Today is, indeed, our national day. We welcome also the dean and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Fellow Ghanaians, for the first time in our nation’s history, this ceremony is being held outside our national capital city of Accra. Tamale was chosen as the venue not only to underline the unity of our nation, but also to express the appreciation of the nation for the peace and the process of reconciliation that have engulfed Dagbon since the enskinment of Yaa-Na Mahama Abukari II as Overlord of Dagbon, on 25th January. I welcome him to this event, as I do the former Regents of Dagbon, the Kampakuya Na and Bolin Lana, who have recently been enskinned as Yoo-Na Yakubu Abdulai Andani, Savelugu Na, and Mion Lana Mahamadu Abdulai, respectively. I say a special welcome, too, to the Nayiri, Naa Bohugu Abdulai Mahami Sheriga, Overlord of Mamprugu, and the Yagbonwura, Tuntumba Boresa Sulemana Jakpa, Overlord of the Gonja State, two of the members of the Committee of Eminent Chiefs who, together with its Chairperson, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, were so instrumental in designing the roadmap, whose implementation has restored normalcy to Dagbon. I salute them all.
After decades of being identified with unrest and disharmony, Dagbon has good reason to celebrate, and it is fitting that we use the opportunity of our independence anniversary celebration to converge here and celebrate with them on the theme of peace and unity.
On March 6, when we celebrate the independence of Ghana, we celebrate the strength that comes from speaking with a united voice. We celebrate the coming together of different peoples to make the united and strong nation of Ghana.
The diversity that went into weaving the fabric of Ghana is a source of strength, and not of weakness, it is a source of pride, and not of shame. Just watch the master kente and fugu weavers at work, and you will appreciate the strength that comes from the coming together of different and varied yarns to make a strong fabric with intricate and beautiful designs.
Our languages might be many, and, sometimes, there might be mutual frustration at having difficulty in speaking each other’s language, and no one feels that more than I do, when I stand here in Tamale, unable to speak Dagbani, but we have learnt to overcome such difficulties. We celebrate the variety of foods available under the theme of Ghanaian cuisine, and the variety of clothes that constitute Ghanaian fashion.
Indeed, the things that are now the source of friction amongst us are not the familiar and ancient differences of tribe and language.
Sadly, chieftaincy has generated more disputes and disharmony than any other institution. The tragedy is that, by chieftaincy’s very nature, only people from the same family can, and do lay claim to the same stool or skin.
I said in Parliament a fortnight ago that, spurred on by the momentum from the Dagbon settlement, the hardworking Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, the Hon. Kofi Dzamesi, is going to intensify his efforts to try and find solutions to other long-standing chieftaincy disputes.
Fellow Ghanaians, it is important for us all to pause awhile, examine and take a critical look at the chieftaincy institution in our nation. When it works, our chiefs provide the cohesive link to our past, and what defines us as a people.
When chieftaincy works, it is an embodiment of our culture and the rock on which we lean for support, and to which we resort in times of trouble. In many parts of our country, our chiefs are the custodians of our lands, and their activities can be the spark for development or for disputes.
Where the chiefs have united their people, and offered forward looking leadership, modernization has been rapid. Where there has been disunity, the area has lagged behind, and the disputes have been a drain on the public purse.
The very survival of the institution is at risk, unless we get over the multiplicity of disputes. For many young people, the pomp and pageantry, which are often all they see, cannot make up for the amount of trouble chieftaincy generates.
For some young people, the insistence on doing things the same way they have been done, whilst resisting any change, make the institution unattractive. The poverty that bedevils some of our lives can only be defeated and overcome, when we are united and pull together.
It is sad for me to have to state that the other institution that has been the source of friction in our society is politics. We, the leaders of the political parties, have a great responsibility to set a proper tone for political discourse in our country.
For years, a deliberate campaign was waged in this country to give competitive politics a bad name to justify military or authoritarian rule. Competitive politics was said to be divisive, antagonistic and corrupt. Well, we learnt from painful experience that military or authoritarian rule could be corrupt and divisive.
It took a long time for a consensus to emerge, but it did, and we all agreed that the form of government, within which we would want to conduct our affairs, should be a multi-party democracy, which, under the aegis of the 4th Republic, has provided us with the longest, uninterrupted period of stable, constitutional governance in our history.
Under a multi-party democracy, there would necessarily be a divergence of opinions, indeed, democracy thrives on debate, on passion, on argument and, sometimes, even on raised voices. In the midst of the arguments and the raised voices, there is and must always be mutual respect for the opposing viewpoints. Under a multi-party democracy, we must have elections that would, invariably, be keenly fought. There is no room, and there should be no room for violence in this whole process. It should be a contest of ideas that seeks to win over the hearts and minds of the people.
Success should be counted by how many young people go to school and get skills and jobs, and not by how many young people can be marshalled to disrupt elections, or how many broken bones we can count. The people of Ghana do not deserve to be toyed with in such a reckless manner. The very concept of political violence is offensive, and shames us all who are in politics. That is why I am determined that, hopefully, the impending dialogue between the two major political parties, the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress, who, between them, regularly take more than 95% of the vote in elections, who have provided all the seven governments of the 4th Republic, and who are the only two parties currently represented in Parliament, should succeed. I will spare no effort, including the initiation of the relevant legislation, to ensure that we rid our nation of politically-related violence.
We are in the process of reconstructing the Ghanaian state, by devolving more and more power to the people, so that people in their localities and communities become more and more empowered to take decisions about matters that affect them, and, thereby, enhance the ease of administration. The creation of six new regions and thirty-eight (38) more districts, and the decision to expand full democracy to local government, are part and parcel of this process of reconstruction, which will be the bedrock of the fairer, freer, more efficient and prosperous Ghana we want to construct.
Two years ago, at my inauguration as President, I asked that we build a confident Ghana which is united, at peace with herself, and takes pride in her diversity. I challenged us to accept that being a Ghanaian must stand for something more than the holder of a birth certificate or a certain passport.
I asked that being a Ghanaian must put certain responsibilities on each one of us, and calling yourself a Ghanaian must mean you have signed up to a certain definable code and conduct.
Fellow Ghanaians, let me remind all of us, again, that being a Ghanaian puts an obligation on each one of us to work at establishing a progressive and happy nation, and calling yourself a Ghanaian must mean we look out for each other. It means also that we must look after the land, the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the animals, all of God’s creatures, that represent this nation of Ghana. This is at the heart of the fight against galamsey, to which I am irrevocably committed.
I do not imagine that this Ghanaian, I envisage, should be an angel. Far from it. We would have all our human foibles, but we would operate within the agreed perimeters of our society. This is the cue to mention our security services, who help to maintain peace and order so we can get on with the business of running our affairs. I congratulate the security agencies for their work, and their readiness to put their lives on the line for the rest of us, and urge them to continue to be professional at all times.
Let me say a few words on our police service, because we need a credible and professional police service to be able to have a peaceful and united society. We cannot have a successful police service without the co-operation of the population. The co-operation starts with giving respect to the police, and encouraging them to earn the trust of the people by serving the public with dedication.
I am glad to note that the Police Service is moving to modernise its own rules and regulations. We should hold them to their vision to become a world-class Service, capable of delivering planned, protective and peaceful services to the standards of international best practice in a democracy.
For the first time, since the colonial Gold Coast era, the Police Service Instructions that govern every aspect of internal professional behaviour have been wholly revised. From the code of ethical conduct to administration, welfare, recruitment and training, use of firearms, the new Service Instructions puts into writing specific directions for every rank – police orderlies, charge officers, crime officers, regional and divisional commanders, Commissioners of Police, through to the authority of the Inspector General of Police himself, in every aspect of their work. The Police must police themselves, first.
I am glad also to note that the Service has launched a new Communication and Education strategy that sets out, explicitly, how the Service must conduct itself and engage in communicating with the citizens of Ghana.
In a region and continent plagued by several incidents of strife, our police have seen the ravages of war, and helped to stabilise the peace. They have served in international peacekeeping operations in just about every trouble spot in the world – in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Georgia and Iraq. Currently, our officers from the Ghana Police Service are providing peacekeeping duties in both the Sudan and South Sudan, as well as in Somalia and the Central African Republic.
They serve with distinction wherever they go. In this respect, I congratulate Chief Superintendent Phyllis Osei for winning the distinguished award in 2018 of the UN Female Police Officer of the year. She is the first Ghanaian female officer to win this global award.
I am pleased to announce that, like our Armed Forces, who serve with distinction on peacekeeping duties, members of the Police Service, who represent us abroad, have also seen their daily allowances increased from 30 to 35 US dollars.
I am happy to see that, finally, the Northern Regions of our country, under the programme for “Planting for Food and Jobs”, are beginning to fulfill their potential of being the food basket of our nation and region. The manner in which farmers in these regions have embraced the programme is a matter of great encouragement for me.
Fellow Ghanaians, I am glad that we are here in Tamale for this year’s celebration. I hope it will spur on many people to get to know our country. We have a beautiful country, and it deserves to be explored and admired. Apart from the joy of discovering the beauty and charms of our country, getting to know Ghana helps to dispel the prejudices of the unknown.
Those, who have the means to do so, should consider it more important to travel around and know Ghana, before they embark on the next vacation to Dubai! It means, of course, that the tourism authority has its work cut out. If they get it right with internal Ghanaian tourists, then they will be ready to cope with foreign tourists.
I urge those who live in the big cities, in particular, to get around the country a little. It just might change their outlook, and make them a little more tolerant of the difficulties that we need to overcome. I congratulate the people of Tamale for being such gracious hosts. This has never been done before, and, doubtless, we shall learn from the experience. The success of the Tamale experience may, however, set the trend for the rotation of this ceremony.
I hope that, very soon, we shall be hearing some exciting news about developments in the Northern Region. Twelve (12) years ago, after deliberate and focused investment in the upstream sector, we discovered oil in commercial quantities offshore the Western Region. Since coming to office two years ago, I have directed the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation to invest systematically in the Voltaian Basin, covering six adjoining regions, including the Northern Region here, to search for oil onshore. I am confident that our search will not be in vain, and that, very, very soon, these areas, that have been characterized by avoidable levels of poverty, will be buzzing with significant investments and creation of jobs. Our efforts are not limited to petroleum and agriculture alone. Again, we shall, soon, be introducing a bill in Parliament that will add new focus in the promotion and establishment of an integrated iron and steel industry in Ghana, an industry whose natural resource, iron ore, is in abundance in these areas.
Fellow Ghanaians, we have dubbed this year, the “Year of Return”, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 West African slaves in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which subsequently became part of the United States of America. We intend to use the symbolism of this “Year of Return” to bring together Africans, persons of African descent, and all well-wishers and lovers of freedom to strengthen the commitment to ensuring that blots on our history, such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery, never reoccur. It means that we are expecting many, many visitors to our shores this year, and we must all, collectively and severally, be on our best behaviour, and make them feel welcome. Several diasporans of African descent, who have lived with us for many years, will, as part of the ‘Year of Return’, receive their long-awaited Ghanaian citizenship.
As we celebrate our nation’s 62nd birthday, we should be fortified in the knowledge that, despite our challenges and difficulties, we are on course to reaching our goal of a Ghana Beyond Aid, that is realising the vision of the free, fair, democratic, self-reliant, prosperous Ghana, governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights, that inspired our forebears to fight for the liberation of our country and continent from foreign domination. Let us remain steadfast and united – the goal is within reach.
I wish all Ghanaians a happy 62nd anniversary, and I thank, once again, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger, for gracing this occasion.
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention.